May Day brings thoughts of neighborhood nuisance

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2001

Because we’ve just had a May Day I’ve been remembering Oleta Hayward.

Thursday, May 03, 2001

Because we’ve just had a May Day I’ve been remembering Oleta Hayward. Frankly, I would rather not, but you know how it goes.

Email newsletter signup

Oleta was four months younger than I, had stringy blonde curls and had to be one of the most unpleasant little girls I’ve ever met.

Except for her older brother, her whole family was unpleasant. They were enthusiastic members of the Ku Klux Klan. On their upright piano they had little Klan figurines. The largest figure represented Oleta’s father, a smaller figure represented her mother, a still smaller figure represented her brother and a comparatively tiny figure stood for dear little Oleta herself.

What with one thing and another Oleta was not surrounded by friends. My mother, touched by the child’s plight, appointed me to be her friend. She used to come down the two blocks she lived from me, with a little coaster wagon full of toys.

Our yard was always filled with kids and if any among them happened to be of Catholic or Jewish persuasion, Oleta always turned around and pulled her little wagon back to her home.

One horrible Saturday when there was no one to dissuade her she arrived in the morning at my house. Since it was Saturday my cousin, who was my age and lived on a farm about 20 miles away, was in to spend the day. Every Saturday afternoon he, the boy next door and the boy kitty-cornered across the alley and I went to the wild west movie at the old Empress theater.

Not only was there a wild west movie, but also a comedy, and most important of all a serial. On the day Oleta chose to honor us with her company the serial, I think it was &uot;The Green Hornet,&uot; would be ending. We had sat through some 25 hair-raising episodes. We could hardly wait.

Then, catastrophe! Oleta said something more maddening than usual and I told her she sounded stupid. A sensitive little stinker, she immediately teared up and complained to my cousin that I’d told her she was stupid.

Always logical, he pointed out that I hadn’t said she was stupid, I’d said she sounded stupid. Then added in a helpful sort of way, &uot;But if you’re wondering about it, I think you are stupid.&uot;

Needless to say Oleta went screaming to my mother, who was not pleased. In some families the cardinal sin is lying, or stealing, or talking back. In my family on both sides for generations the one that could get you disowned was inhospitality. &uot;Welcome the stranger and speed the parting guest,&uot; was something we learned along with the 10 commandments.

Needless to say my cousin and I had to depend on the kindness of our friends to find out how the happy ending of the serial came about. It wasn’t the same, but it was the best we could do.

Back in my remote childhood May baskets among friends were de rigueur. You decorated them with crepe paper, filled them with flowers and wrapped up pieces of candy, set them down outside your friends’ door, rang the doorbell and ran like mad.

Usually by May first there was an abundance of flowers, but one year the season was late and it was all I could do to find flowers to fill the baskets of my five best friends, my 10 good friends, and another six or seven that I particularly admired. It was touch and go there for awhile and then Oleta knocked at the door and left her offering.

My whole instinct was to ignore it, but I knew I had no choice in the matter. I hastily constructed another basket and lacking flowers took the ones Oleta had put in the basket she gave me and put them in hers.

She was so pleased she made a special call to thank me, or at least to report to my mother. &uot;It was no nice of Love to give me a May basket, Mrs. Cruikshank, because I know she really doesn’t like me very well. And I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m not grateful. But I must say the flowers she put in my basket looked suspiciously like the flowers I had put in hers.&uot;

As my mother said afterward you should always look for the best qualities in those you encountered and Oleta was at least observant.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.